August 10, 2012

This isn't Fiction - Oh that pesky research!

Linda H. is curious about, "How much research is needed for publication?"

Quite a bit I'd say.

But seriously, in the first place it very much depends on the specific genre. There will be more research involved in eg Natural Sciences than in an Autobiography. And let's not forget something else entirely, there's also a whole lot of research necessary for fiction novels too. Think for example about historical settings and customs if you're writing eg a romance in Victorian times. I've read books where banana peels have been thrown at burning witches in the Middle Ages *still shudders at the memory*. Let it suffice to to say, some background information about the realms you put your characters in is a definite must.

While authors may take some liberties with historical or other facts they weave into their novels, this is something non fiction does not allow. With fiction you may use facts creatively, while in non fiction this is pretty much a no-go.

The word non fiction basically implies the involvement of research, because it is not based on fiction (thus the non in front of the fiction) but on facts. You can make up stories, but you better not try that with facts. Needless to say, that it will happen every now and then that non fiction authors get a tad too creative, making up or falsifying results as to better fit their conclusions (or rather, their expectations).

Most importantly though, research is not just research. These days when you think you can gather every bit of info you're looking for through the internet, many people aren't aware that seriously researching a topic goes far beyond the click of a mouse. It involves trips to libraries, interviews with specialists, field studies, conducting tests in laboratories, and much more.

Depending on the particular genre and the topic discussed, the extent of the research may inevitably vary. Equally there's a difference whether a book is meant as an introduction for laypeople who've got next to no knowledge about a certain subject, but want to find out more about it, or a book for professionals who are curious about new developments in their own field of expertise. Both the research involved and technical terms used will vary tremendously.
Indeed, non fiction authors are walking (or rather writing) a very fine line here. It's not just about the facts they want to convey, but also about how they communicate them. So, it's not just about the information, but also about how it is communicated. This is something I will discuss in one of my next posts.

So how much research has to be done to make both the publishers, and even more importantly, the reader happy? Hopefully a lot.


Have you ever read a non fiction book in which the author has obviously taken some liberties with facts? Or are there any books that you found lacking in terms of serious research? Let me know!


  1. I think unauthorized biographies heavily rely on gossip and not facts... I have read two such biographies and some of the info was never confirmed, in fact, it was just gossip.

    1. I agree, most of those are more about gossip than fact. Yet some autobiographies seem to have more in common with fiction than fact as well, especially when they only want to present themselves in the best light.